Meditations on Middle-earth: Terry Pratchett
[ Extract from "The Tolkien Effect" by Terry Pratchett, to be published in Meditations on Middle-earth, edited by Karen Haber (St. Martins Press, ISBN 0-312-27536-6, $24.95, November 2001). All rights reserved. Used by permission of Karen Haber. Watch for more previews from this fascinating book! ]
The Lord of the Rings is a cult classic. I know that's true, because I read it in the newspapers, saw it on the TV, heard it on the radio.
We know what 'cult' means. It's a put-down word. It means "inexplicably popular but unworthy." It's a word used by the guardians of the one true flame to dismiss anything that is liked by the wrong kind of people. It also means "small, hermetic, impenetrable to outsiders." It has associations with cool drinks in Jonestown.
The Lord of the Rings has well over 100,000,000 readers. How big will it have to be to emerge from cult status? Or, once having been a cult -- that is to say, once having borne the mark of Cain -- is it actually possible that anything can *ever* be allowed to become a full-fledged Classic? . . .
. . . I can't remember where I was when JFK was shot, but I can remember exactly where and when I was when I first read JRRT. It was New Year's Eve, 1961. I was babysitting for friends of my parents while they all went out to a party. I didn't mind. I'd got this three-volume yacht anchor of a book from the library that day. Boys at school had told me about it. It'd got maps in it, they said. This struck me at the time as a pretty good indicator of quality . . .
. . . What can I remember? I can remember the vision of beech woods in the Shire; I was a country boy, and the hobbits were walking through a landscape which, give or take the odd housing development, was pretty much the one I'd grown up in. I remember it like a movie. There I was, sitting on this rather chilly Sixties-style couch in this rather bare room, but at the edges of the carpet the forest began. I remember the light as green, coming through the trees. I have never since then so truly had the experience of being inside the story . . .
. . . I can't remember going home with my parents but I do remember sitting up in bed until three a.m., still reading. I don't recall going to sleep. I *do* remember waking up with the book open on my chest and finding my place, and going on reading. It took me, oh, about twenty-three hours to get to the end.
Then I picked up the first book and started again.